Road work way over budget

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Budgets set and approved for new highway projects in Norway often are burst long before work is completed, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Sometimes the budget overruns amount to hundreds of millions of kroner, but consequences are few for those in charge.

Examples are numerous. Improvements to State Highway 4 around Raufoss, south of Gjøvik, were budgeted at NOK 257 million. The final cost was NOK 488 million, fully 64.3 percent over budget.

State Highway 255 through Gausdal was supposed to cost NOK 252 million. It ended up costing NOK 373 million, 38 percent over budget. And improvements to a section of the highway known as the “ringvei” (ring road) around Oslo are expected to end up costing NOK 960 million more than budgeted when finally completed in 2013.

The ringvei project covers less than 17 kilometers of heavily trafficked roadway, but its expansion has proven to be a nightmare for highway planners. The cost of expropriating real estate along the route has skyrocketed, and the area is full of infrastructure such as underground pipes, cables, even a subway system and train line. “It’s impossible to know beforehand everything we’re going to run into once work begins,” claims project leader Mari Barstad. “I think we do a very thorough job of trying to control costs, and we now think a budget of NOK 3.69 billion (USD 585 million) will hold.”The reasons for huge budget overruns vary, but the most common one in outlying areas is that highway planners haven’t been able to foresee soil or rock conditions until construction gets underway.

“It’s the ground examinations where we have the most trouble,” Stein Fyksen, a veteran road chief with the state highway department (Statens vegvesen), told Aftenposten . “Soft masses are often hard to determine. So are price increases.”

A new four-lane section of the busy E16 highway just opened outside the Oslo suburb of Sandvika, so commuters and other through traffic can now bypass a commercial and residential area where accidents were frequent and speed limits were set at 50kph (about 30mph). The new section is only five kilometers long, but its budget was set at NOK 990 million in 2006. It ended up costing an estimated NOK 1.4 billion. There was far more polluted soil than expected, which had to be removed, and rock conditions where tunnels were dug were much poorer than expected. One bridge began to sink while under construction, so lots of reinforcement was necessary.

Highway officials blatantly deny they intentionally set low budgets in the hopes of getting projects approved. “I’ve met that claim before, but it’s just hopeless,” Fyksen said.

Construction director Lars Aksnes for the state highway directorate (Vegdirektoratet) concedes that the budget overruns are “too large,” though, and “we need to improve.”

He notes, though, that several projects have been completed either within or under budget, with costs coming in 15 percent lower than expected on a stretch of the E18 highway in Vestfold. “So there are some bright spots,” Aksnes said.